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Leadership Temptations in Tough Times

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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"There are no atheists in foxholes." However, when times are really tough, there may be few genuine Christians in foxholes either. When times get tough, people certainly want enough of God to get them through. But perhaps it is also true that, in the worst of times, we may not want God to get in the way of anything we think might get us through.

How should one lead an organization or team of people through difficult times? I once heard a leader say, only half in jest, "When times get tough, I am willing to rise above principle to get the job done." When things are going well, one has the luxury of doing the right thing even if it costs a bit more in time and money or decreases the efficiency or bottom-line productivity of the team. But when tough times come, the stakes are higher and there is a strong temptation to do whatever it takes to prevail.

In the seemingly endless stories of the leaders of Israel in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, one notices a sad pattern. King after king is rebuked because "he did not remove the high places." Notice that these kings never stopped worshipping the one true God. But they wanted to hedge their bets, so they never got rid of the pagan altars to the practical gods of rain and fertility.

Like the kings of Israel, we don’t want to give up on pagan ways that may save our skin if the true and living God doesn’t come through. Just in case the gospel way of living proves impractical, we still have access to idols in "high places": selfishness, if generosity is too expensive; intimidation, if kindness doesn’t work; outbursts of anger, if gentleness fails; vindictiveness, if forgiveness doesn’t cut it; and gossip and conniving, if honesty and sincerity aren’t working.

When budgets and salaries are on the rise, even a mediocre leader can bank on some enthusiasm for the tasks at hand. But when budget cuts come and salaries are frozen, outstanding Christian leadership becomes essential. Jesus led a group of disciples who accomplished the mission he had set for them against all odds (and with God’s help). Yet he offered little of wordly value to them, except his assurance that they were collaborators with him in building God's kingdom.

First, we must show that it’s about them, not us. After Jesus fasted for forty days, the devil said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." The temptation isn’t to break a 40-day fast; Jesus was going to do that anyway. The temptation is to use our power for our own benefit. The perks, privileges, and pay that we steer our way as leaders will quickly undermine our ability to lead in difficult times. Later in his ministry, Jesus gladly made bread for thousands, but he never did a miracle for himself. Neither should we.

Second, we must show that we’ll share the struggle, not float above it. Scripture says, "Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, 'throw yourself down.' " It takes a Christian vision of leadership for us to be willing to share the lot of those we lead. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we should be spared the pain and struggle that others on our team are experiencing. Yet Jesus did not float above the struggles of his "team."

Finally, we cannot take God-displeasing shortcuts to achieve a God-honoring goal.

The story of Jesus’ three temptations concludes: "the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give you,'he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.' " In the end, Jesus will rule the world, so that is not a temptation. The temptation is to kowtow to the devil to achieve our worthy goal. Leaders who cut corners and compromise their ethics think they are getting the team to the goal more quickly. But it has been rightly said, "The ends don’t justify the means; the means are the end."

May God’s grace show us that tough times in our daily work never require us to abandon our high calling.

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